Rubbed Kale Salad

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During dinner parties I’m not a fan of serving a big green salad as part of the meal. A green salad at the end of the night, when there are inevitably leftovers, is a sad and greasy thing. The greens are wilted, there’s a pool of dressing at the bottom of the bowl, and the whole thing looks somewhat deflated. You could avoid this problem by serving undressed salad and passing the dressing but then it’s not dressed evenly and you end up with dressing running into other parts of the plate. Not an ideal situation. Unless the green of choice is something that doesn’t wilt under pressure. Something like kale.

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The virtues of kale have been extolled here before and even though it is nutritious, that’s not really why I love it. Kale will not turn to slime even after days of salad dressing. It will be just as good, if not better, if you make and dress the salad a day or so before and then put it in a serving bowl right before guests arrive. That is powerful stuff when it comes to midweek entertaining. Or even midweek healthy eating if I’m being honest.

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Raw kale itself isn’t so appetizing. It’s sort of tough and bitter on its own but rubbing it with a small amount of salt, lemon, and oil helps to calm some of that bitterness. Serving it in a salad with raw or dried fruit does even more to tone down the bitter taste in favor of something more mellow and green. Even if you normally avoid fruit-in-salad this is one place where it makes a big difference for the better.

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The first time I had this salad was at a friends’ home with fresh-picked kale from their garden but I’ve since made it several times, including once with a week old bunch that was starting to go yellow. It was still delicious. And any dish you can make ahead for a dinner party is worth knowing about.

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Rubbed Kale Salad *

Makes enough for 4-6 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

1 large bunch dinosaur kale (sometimes called lacinato or cavalo nero, the leaves are less curly on the edges and somewhat bumpy)**
1 tsp kosher salt
Juice of one lemon
Up to ¼ cup good quality olive oil or neutral oil**
½ cup dried or fresh fruit (the bonus of dried fruit is it won’t go brown if you refrigerate the rest of the salad) – Dried can be cranberries, cherries, or apricots, for fresh apples and pears are lovely.
2-3 oz cheese – parmesan shreds, feta, goat cheese, high quality aged, cheddar, really anything works.

Devein the kale and slice the leaves into ½ inch thick ribbons. Wash these thoroughly since kale is often full of dirt. Then let the leaves dry in the colander or on a towel.

In a large bowl put the kale shreds, salt, half the lemon juice, and a few tablespoons of oil. Rub these ingredients together with your fingers for a few minutes (three or so should do it). You want to really squeeze everything in your hands to make sure you get the salt and acid into the kale leaves. That will help them start to soften a little and also will take care of some of that bitterness .When you’re done rubbing the leaves, let everything sit in the bowl for at least 20 minutes to further the de-bittering.

When you’re ready to serve the salad, taste it and see if it needs more dressing. If so add the rest of the lemon juice and oil or another vinaigrette of your choice. Add the fruit and cheese, if using them, and toss. The salad will keep, fully dressed, for up to a week in the fridge.

*This is often called raw kale salad and while that’s true it doesn’t mean it’s not prepared in some way. Serving raw ribbons of kale with dressing will not be as good as if the salt and lemon is rubbed into the leaves. Although you’re certainly welcome to try.

** It may look like you have a lot of kale but it will lose a lot of volume as it softens because it won’t be as crinkly. If you’re serving more than 6 people I’d recommend doubling the recipe. You’ll see why when it’s ready to serve.

***A lot of recipes call for good quality olive oil on salad which is wonderful but if you don’t have the high quality stuff just use something bland an inoffensive which is generally not the cheap olive oil you use for cooking.

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